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Sam & Max Save the World

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Skunkape Games
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2020

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PC Review - 'Sam & Max: Save the World Remastered'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 2, 2020 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

The Freelance Police are back in a remastered version of their first season of episodic adventure games, lovingly updated by a small group of the original developers with the blessing of Sam & Max creator Steve Purcell.

There are a few franchises that I hold near and dear to my heart, and Sam & Max is one of them. I started with the first game, Sam & Max Hit the Road and continued with Telltale's much-awaited continuation after its sequel was canceled at LucasArts. Telltale has since vanished, split, and reappeared in many shapes and sizes — one group is Skunkape Games, which consists of folks who had previously worked on the Sam & Max series.

Sam & Max: Save the World Remastered is the touched-up re-release of Telltale's first Sam & Max season, which consisted of six episodes. While it doesn't go far beyond some quality of life improvements, it is a welcome sign that fans of the series can hope for more (a new season, perhaps?).

Save the World Remastered is exactly what it sounds like: a remaster of the iconic duo's original season. If you own the original games and tried revisiting them recently, the need for an improved version is obvious. Without manual tweaks, the original game is locked to a 5:4 screen ratio, low resolutions, and low frame rates. It's not unplayable, but it isn't pretty to look at anymore. Add to that the usual Telltale quirks that its older adventure games shared (lip-syncing being completely off), and the titles are barely serviceable by today's standards. It's a shame, since the writing and episode structure are still great and enjoyable. I'm happy to report that the remaster fixes pretty much all of these issues across the board — and some more.

Throughout the season, we control the iconic freelance police duo in a fictional American city. The anthropomorphic couple consist of Sam, an enthusiastic dog with an affinity for long-winded sentences and ridiculous terminology, and his waist-high borderline psychotic rabbit companion Max. We directly control Sam in the usual fashion for a point-and-click adventure: either via mouse or with a mouse and keyboard. There's also controller support, which did not exist before.

Save the World is divided into six episodes, each taking between two to three hours to complete, and each with self-contained stories that are somewhat connected to an season-long overarching theme. That naturally means that not too much has changed here if you're a returning fan. The story and puzzles remain largely intact, but there have been some tweaks to events when we compared select scenes with the original counterparts. It's not enough to change anything in drastic ways, but that is likely for the better, since most of the humor and setup still work remarkably well today.

It's an adventure title, so it stands and falls with its story and puzzle design. Sam & Max is far from the trickiest adventure to beat, but it's still far removed from Telltale's later focus on largely puzzle-free, story-driven adventures like The Walking Dead. The difficulty level falls somewhere between obvious, simple puzzles and a few head-scratchers that can take a few minutes to figure out. The puzzles are fine, but they're generally not very memorable or ingenious. What carries the experience is the dialogue and characters you meet throughout the adventure. There's an odd cast of characters, including Bosco (the only character whose voice actor changed for the remaster), the paranoid shop owner and wishful inventor; and Sybil, the tattoo artist-turned-psychologist.

The game is a bit of a shallow affair, so don't expect any deep or meaningful character development. The series hinges on its odd sense of humor and banter, which are mainly driven by the two protagonists, who can feel very two-dimensional. That usually doesn't hinder the anarchic fun, though. Even having seen and played all of it multiple times before, the writing still made me laugh or grin.

Save the World Remastered has varied themes and features a few memorable episodes, including a former child star hypnotizing the public; a toy-themed, mafia-infested casino; a presidential election; and the moon. This remaster contains all of the available content from the outset, and that may have ultimately hurt the experience. All episodes recycle the street that your office is located on as well as some other areas, and the support cast can play a sizeable role in the individual episodes. Most are found in the same locations and environments, causing some fatigue over time. This was surely due to a budget constraint at the time, but it can be extremely noticeable when you play episodes back to back.

The episodes aren't consistently great. While they are short experiences on their own, they don't always hold the player's interest all the way through. Most episodes lose some steam in the middle, where it can sometimes be tedious to revisit a subset of locations in an attempt to find a missing object to interact with or collect. It's always been a comparably small-scale indie project, so these are not major concerns, but the series notably took a while to find its footing. Thankfully, based on Skunkape Games' current website, it seems to hold all of the rights to potentially remaster the other seasons. We may get much more and increasingly better Sam & Max content in the coming months and years, and that's exciting news in my book.

If the content and gameplay are largely the same, what's new in the remastered version? First of all, it fixes its available resolutions, frame rate, and screen ratio. If you would prefer it, you can absolutely use Save the World Remastered on 1440p 144hz. There are several minor changes that you'll likely never notice even if you played the original, but they all improve the end product. Lip syncing is much improved, as are some animations. The visual style has been updated, including slightly thicker black outlines around objects, forcing a look that is more in line with its comic origins. It's impressive how a lot of little changes make this a much more playable product, even though the game cannot hide its aging foundation.

Character models can be simple and unexciting to look at, as are several environments. At the same time, the new and improved look feels very timeless and works great, hiding many rough edges in a slightly shinier coat of paint. It fits and runs well enough, so luckily, we did not run into any issues during our time with the game on the PC. We also do not want to ignore the handful of new songs in the remaster, all of which are probably not noticeable for newcomers, but they do add some cartoony flair to some episodes.

I also want to highlight what I would consider to be a fair price for the title, which retails for $20 digitally, on the PC. Owners of the original game on Steam can upgrade their version for $10, which is a fair deal since the original games are in rough shape in the modern era. While I'm enthusiastic about the IP as a whole, the first season of Sam & Max is solid and entertaining, but it shows its age and rough underlying technology in several areas. If you're a fan of adventure games, this is an easy title to recommend nonetheless.

Sam & Max: Save the World Remastered is a welcome sign of life for a classic adventure IP. It feels like it's the start of an effort to properly revive the series in small steps, and that would be great news on its own. The remaster is handled decently, and it achieves what it sets out to do. It updated everything that it needs to, and it looks decent enough on modern systems it. While certainly small in scale, it shines with some good writing and humorous stories that I still enjoy every time I play through it, and that's the lifeblood of any strong adventure experience.

Score: 7.0/10

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